The political career of Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías had an inauspicious start. A failed coup in 1992 led to a two-year prison sentence. But Chåvez was nothing less than resilient. He returned to win the 1999 election and remained in power until his death from cancer on March 5th this year.
Throughout his presidency he made friends and enemies in almost equal measure. To the Venezuelan working classes, who benefited from many of his social reforms, he was an heroic figure. To other elements of Venezuelan society, he was considered manipulative and autocratic. Abroad, his reputation was similarly polarised - the US in particular, fired by his alliance with Cuba, found Chávez an antagonistic figure.
As Gabriel García Márquez wrote in 1999, after flying from Cuba to Caracas with the new president, "While he sauntered off with his bodyguards of decorated officers and close friends, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I had just been travelling and chatting pleasantly with two opposing men. One to whom the caprices of fate had given an opportunity to save his country. The other, an illusionist, who could pass into the history books as just another despot."
Rory Carroll joined The Guardian as a reporter in 1997. After spells in Rome, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Irishman took over the paper's Baghdad bureau. On October 19th, 2005 Carroll was abducted, but released unharmed a day later. In April 2006, he was appointed The Guardian's Latin American correspondent, and worked out of Caracas for the next six years. In 2011, he was long-listed for The Orwell Prize.
Writer: Rory Carroll
Reader: Jack Klaff
Abridger: Pete Nichols
Producer: Karen Rose
A Sweet Talk production for BBC Radio 4.
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